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Badass Women of History: Tsuruhime Ohori

Opinion | November 3, 2015

Being a teenager is hard—braces, algebra homework, acne. Being a teenager during the Sengoku period, or Warring States period, which took place from 1467-1603 in Japan, was really hard—social unrest, constant military conflict, acne. Being a teenager during the Sengoku period when you were the head priestess of a shrine on an island invaded by that guy who killed your older brothers in a previous failed invasion attempt was really, really hard.

With her two brothers dead and her priest father dying from illness, Tsuruhime Ohori became the head priestess of the Oyamazumi Shrine in 1542 when she was 16 years old. The shrine, located on Ōmishima Island about 30 miles southeast of Hiroshima, was dedicated to multiple Shinto gods and spirits who protect sailors and soldiers. Unfortunately, they don’t protect against invasion.

Up to this point, Tsuruhime’s upbringing had mostly consisted of tending to the shrine grounds, helping with prayers and training in martial arts—pretty standard shrine-maiden stuff. But with pathetic loser Yoshitaka Ōuchi (previously referred to as that guy) threatening invasion (again), the islanders were getting nervous. To this, Tsuruhime did the most logical thing, which was declare that she was a divine incarnation of the spirit Mishima Myojin, one of the spirits who inhabited the island’s shrine. With her newfound godliness, Tsuruhime gathered an army of islanders that drove Ōuchi back to sea.

However, Ōuchi really wasn’t impressed with the whole living god thing and also didn’t know how to take a hint. He came back a few months later to which Tsuruhime was like, “haha NO.” While Ōuchi and his bros (I mean literal bros—The Ōuchi were a family of samurai based in present day-Yamaguchi prefecture) were having a party on their boat, Tsuruhime donned a pair of ninja gauntlets, climbed onto his boat, and challenged him to a one-on-one duel. Ōuchi, with his inflated ego, felt threatened but tried to pass this challenge off as amusement, laughing at Tsuruhime and calling her a prostitute. In response, Tsuruhime murdered Ōuchi in front of all of his men and then ran away, presumably laughing, to her getaway boat. She, along with her reinforcements, then lobbed grenades onto the boats until Ōuchi’s samurai-cronies retreated into the sunset, never to be seen again.

Except not, because these guys seriously cannot take a hint. The Ōuchi bros came back two years later, still fuming about the whole murder and grenades thing. Sadly, Tsuruhime’s fiancé, who was probably a really nice guy who liked petting cats and talking about feminism, was killed in action. Overcome with grief, Tsuruhime threw herself into the sea and drowned.

Definitely a loss. Today, in Japan, she’s celebrated as a legendary hero and is often called the Joan of Arc of Japan. The Oyamazumi Shrine still exists and often holds parades and festivals in her honor. There, you can also see her (supposed) armor and think about all of the cool things you did when you were 16.